Reading a Christopher Pike book after spending a few days focused on R.L. Stine can be a jarring experience.
Even though Stine and Pike are often compared to each other, Pike’s books are usually a lot darker than Stine’s. Whereas an R.L. Stine boo will, more often than not, end with the promise of a return to normalcy, Pike’s novels often seem to end on a down note. The teenage heroes of Pike’s books are just as likely to fail as they are to succeed. Whereas Stine usually only offers up one or two deaths over the course of his books, Pike has no fear of wiping nearly the entire cast by the final chapter. The world of Christopher Pike is a dark disturbing place.
Consider 1998’s The Hollow Skull. The Hollow Skull takes place in the small desert town of Madison, Nevada. Cassie has just graduated high school and is desperate to get out of the town. After all, California’s not that fear away. Why couldn’t Cassie move out there and maybe go to college at UCLA? The only problem is that all of her friends seem to be content with the idea of staying in Madison, including her boyfriend. Plus, if Cassie leaves, that’ll mean leaving her little sister with their abusive, alcoholic father.
Still, because Cassie is determined to escape, her friends suggest that they all go on one last adventure. Hey, why not go down the abandoned mine shaft!? Of course, it turns out that there’s a weird pool of black goo at the bottom of the mine shaft and, after one Cassie’s friends falls in the goo, he starts to act strangely.
In fact, the entire town of Madison starts to act differently, as if they’ve been possessed and disturbing thoughts are now being put into their skulls. Suddenly, everyone that Cassie knows is acting differently. Cassie decides that it time for her and her sister to flee Madison but it turns out that escaping is not going to be as easy as going down an abandoned mine shaft….
Seriously, abandon all hope ye who enter here! This is a dark, dark book. It owes more than a little debt to Invasion of the Body Snatchers but, even more than being a traditional YA horror novel, it’s also a look at just how difficult it is to start a new life. No matter how hard she tries, Cassie cannot seem to make a clean break from Madison. Even if she’s not possessed like everyone else in town, she’s still trapped. At its best, the book captures the hopelessness of being trapped in one location or situation and feeling like you’ll never be able to figure out how to move forward.
Of course, plotwise, it’s all a bit predictable. If you’ve seen any of the versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, you’ll be able to guess what’s going to happen. For that matter, if you’ve read Christopher Pike’s Monster, you’ll also be able to predict much of what awaits Cassie. Still, if you’re weary of R.L. Stine’s positivity, Christopher Pike provides a rather downbeat antidote.